Managing waste in society helps prevent waste pollution, and provides other benefits.
But, what is the best way to manage waste in society?
There are various factors that have to be considered when answering this question, and in this guide we take you through factors and considerations.
Summary – What Is The Best Way To Manage Waste In Society?
Individual cities and States should be assessed individually when determining the best way to manage their waste streams.
The type of waste needs to be considered (especially when it’s a potentially hazardous or special waste type like spent nuclear fuel, or different types of e waste for example), as well as the products that contain the waste, the waste management systems, facilities and technology available, as well as other environmental, social, and economic considerations.
In terms of the different waste management options:
Different waste management options might be used alongside each other, and be used in different proportions depending on the types and quantities of waste being produced in a community or city.
For example, you may want to use recycling as a greater proportion of waste management compared to landfill and incineration where a city’s waste profile shows that more recyclable waste is being produced.
In general, it’s good practice to follow the waste hierarchy, which looks like this (in order from most desirable to least desirable):
– Reduce waste (and re-design and modify it so we need less of it, and to be more re-usuable or recyclable)
We want to reduce and prevent the generation of waste in the first instance
– Re-use and repair/restore waste
Next, we want to be able to re-use and repair/restore materials and products
– Recycle, & Compost waste
Next, we want to use recycled materials and products, or in the case of composting – allow organic waste to decompose naturally and aerobically
– Landfill, and Incineration/Waste To Energy
Landfill and incineration/waste to energy are the last options, which are also called disposal.
Landfill and incineration technology differs from place to place, so which one is better depends on the waste strategy of the city, and the technology used.
Factors To Consider When Assessing The Best Waste Management Options In An Overall Waste Strategy
Certainly some of the biggest factors to consider are:
– The technology used
Recycling facilities should be efficient at sorting, and single stream recycling collection can help to speed things up.
The most modern landfills should have good leachate management, a durable lining, and methane capture (to convert methane to energy).
Incineration plants and waste to energy plants should be efficient, should have dioxin filters and air pollution/GHG emission capture technology + a way for dealing with heavy metals and other toxins found in burnt waste.
– The type of waste you are talking about
Some materials are recyclable and some are non recyclable.
Of the recyclable materials, some make more sense than others to actually recycle than others e.g. metals can be recycled over and over and generally have good value on the market as a recycled product.
Conversely, not all plastics are worth recycling, and glass is generally less resource intensive to make new from virgin materials. Textiles can be in this same category of too hard or not economical to recycle in some instances
There’s also the question of how to better recover metals from certain products like e waste where metal is not being recovered as well as it perhaps could be. And, recycling and disposing of electric vehicle batteries will require more discussion in the future
With incineration, plastic is an example of a material with high energy value for waste to energy, due to the petroleum that makes it up.
For landfill, organic waste tends to decompose anaerobically – emitting much of the methane that landfills are renowned for.
– Social, economic and environmental needs
A waste management option need to protect human health, and also the environment and wildlife. It needs to be sustainable long term.
Having said that, it also needs to be profitable and provide jobs.
If not, and it provides a strong human and environmental benefit, the government may step in to introduce taxes, fees and subsidies to support it.
Although landfill can be worse than recycling environmentally in some ways, it can be a lot cheaper than either recycling and especially incineration economically, and from the point of view of making a profit as a business.
Without taxes, subsidies and other incentives, some reports indicate that some incineration plants don’t turn a profit.
Some of the most advanced and modern recycling facilities and systems can lead to much higher waste collection fees for citizens.
So, cost, fees and profitability of the business model can all be considerations.
– The short and long term strategy of the city
Cities like San Francisco have around an 80% recycling and composting rate, with only around 20% of waste going to landfill.
To do this though, they’ve had to make significant changes to waste payer schemes and make significant investments of time and money.
On the flip side, developing countries in some parts of the world have no waste collection or processing system whatsoever due to financial and infrastructure limitations.
Some get by with open and uncontained landfills which let plastic into water sources and the ocean, and are a huge risk for human health and disease.
A city and even local town specific approach needs to be taken.
– Finances and monetary budgets of cities
Good waste management systems and technology can cost money to set up and maintain.
It’s no surprise that some of the wealthier and more developed cities in the world have some of the more effective waste management systems and facilities.
Money isn’t everything though … co-ordination and planning can be other factors involved